Second Term Review (2020)
The Second Term of Parliament ended on 31 July 2020. It lasted 16 weeks and was an unprecedented period, which saw Parliament conducting its business on virtual platforms owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Parliament took a decision to suspend its programme as a precautionary measure due to COVID-19, to drastically limit the numbers of people at the parliamentary precinct. Business resumed in mid-April, and the two Houses amended their Rules to make provision for the carrying out of business virtually.
Initially, Parliament prioritised a schedule of virtual committee meetings, whose scope of oversight related to government departments driving COVID-19 response measures. Later, parliamentary business was expanded to other core constitutional duties like approving budgets, passing legislation and recommending appointments.
The Rules make it clear that public participation and access to virtual proceedings must be made possible in a manner that is consistent with a participatory and representative democracy, such that virtual meetings must be live-streamed, wherever possible.
The virtual and hybrid Parliament is limiting and imperfect but the experimentation with technology has enabled the legislature to fulfil its essential function during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Save for a few hurdles and teething problems, the business of Parliament proceeded in a satisfactory manner, both from a technological and participatory point of view this term. There is room for improvement as the Virtual Parliament will likely continue for the remainder of the year.
Main and Supplementary Budgets
The 2020 Budget, tabled in February, was passed on 19 June in line with Parliament's planning framework which allowed until the end of June for the Legislature to pass the main budget, and for the President to sign both the Appropriation Bill and Division of Revenue Bill into law.
On 24 June, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presented a Supplementary Budget, necessitated by the historic nature of the pandemic and economic downturn.
A net total allocation of R55.3 billion in additional funding to national government departments was proposed, and R130 billion was reprioritised. The emergency budget further proposed national government department 2020/21 main budget baseline reductions of R31.7 billion.
Minister Mboweni put exact numbers to the COVID-19 measures for, among others, small businesses, workers and vulnerable households, and grimly warned of a debt crisis if no action was taken. The emergency budget brought an Adjustments Appropriation Bill and a Division of Revenue Amendment Bill to Parliament, and also formalised two tax bills to give effect to government's COVID-19 response.
The role of Parliament remains indispensable during this period of national lockdown, which is expected to continue for months. Parliamentarians the world over are expected to be at the forefront of the fight to prevent, slow the spread, and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on societies and economies.
During plenary sessions, some MPs were present in the chamber in Cape Town and others would join in through virtual platforms.
23 mini-plenaries were held by Parliament (this in relation to the supplementary budget). The National Assembly and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) held 14 and 15 hybrid and virtual sittings respectively.
The sheer scale of COVID-19 means it touches almost every aspect of government - everywhere there are questions to be answered. As a result, the legislature prioritised debates, ministerial statements, events and questions to Ministers who lead departments that are affected by the pandemic. These sessions presented the Executive with opportunities to update Parliament on government responses towards dealing with the challenges that accompany the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oral and Written Questions
Parliamentary questions and subsequent replies from members of the Executive play a significant role in the legislative processes. They allow MPs to hold the government to account and are a rich source of information for citizens. Both the President and the Deputy President appeared once to answer oral questions in the National Assembly.
Questions for Written Reply, which is largely a tool used by the opposition, is another critical oversight mechanism for achieving government accountability. 1306 questions were posed by MPs in the NA and 809 replies were received.
*PMG could not confirm the figures for the NCOP at the time of writing.
One of Parliament's main responsibilities is to initiate, scrutinise, and process proposed bills to bring into effect new laws or changes to existing laws. On this front, a total of 39 Bills are under consideration by parliamentary committees. Nine were introduced and six Bills were passed and sent to the President's desk for assent.
Owing to the President's misgivings about their constitutionality, four Bills, these were returned to Parliament for reconsideration. Read more about Bills returned to Parliament here.
Committees and Ministerial Attendance
The committee corridor was a hive of activity this term, albeit virtually. 470 meetings were held: 406 by the National Assembly and 52 by the NCOP. In the early part of the term, many committees met jointly.
The agenda included COVID-19, budget-related, oversight and legislative business. 87 COVID-19 related meetings were held, which translates to 19% of the total number of meetings convened this term. (We have consolidated our reports on the COVID-19 related meetings here.)
The top three busiest Committees were: Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (35), Portfolio Committee on Communications (29), and the Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements (25).
Three committees undertook recruitment processes to fill vacancies in four statutory and regulatory bodies, namely: the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), Auditor-General SA (AGSA), and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). Following delays, a new Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) head was confirmed by Parliament.
The Ad hoc committee established to amend Section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation lapsed at the end of May and was later revived.
On ministerial attendance, typically, Ministers and their deputies attend committee meetings for crucial events such as the introduction of legislation as well as the tabling of annual performance plans and annual reports. Beyond this, they are invited to address major topical issues that are in the public domain. Virtual meetings have had a positive impact on ministerial attendance with the average attendance rate reaching five.
The top three best attendees of committee meetings this term were Ministers Aaron Motsoaledi (10), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (9) and Lindiwe Zulu (9). On the other end of the spectrum, Ministers Naledi Pandor, Gwede Mantashe, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane only availed themselves before parliamentary committees twice this term.**
Three petitions were submitted to Parliament this term.
Two of these sought the intervention of Parliament to alleged service delivery challenges facing municipalities in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. The other was submitted on behalf of a community in the Elundini Local Municipality, Eastern Cape, calling for the intervention of Parliament, in relation to the alleged failure by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to protect and secure the community and their property.
**Disclaimer: PMG makes every effort to use reliable and comprehensive information, but we do not represent that the tally is accurate or complete.
About this blog
"That week in Parliament" is a series of blog posts in which the important Parliamentary events of the week are discussed.